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A rapier is a slender, sharply pointed sword, ideally used for thrusting attacks, used mainly in Early Modern Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries.
The word "rapier" generally refers to a relatively long-bladed sword characterized by a complex hilt which is constructed to provide protection for the hand wielding it. While the blade might be broad enough to cut to some degree (but nowhere near that of the wider swords in use around the Middle Ages), the long thin blade lends itself to thrusting. The blade might be sharpened along its entire length or sharpened only from the centre to the tip (as described by Capoferro).Pallavicini, a rapier master in 1670, strongly advocated using a weapon with two cutting edges. A typical example would weigh 1 kilogram (2.2 lb) and have a relatively long and slender blade of 2.5 centimetres (0.98 in) or less in width, 1 metre (39 in) or more in length and ending in a sharply pointed tip.
The term rapier generally refers to a thrusting sword with a blade longer and thinner than that of the so-called side-swordbut heavier than the small sword, a lighter weapon that would follow in the 18th century and later, but the exact form of the blade and hilt often depends on who is writing and when. It can refer to earlier spada da lato (much like theespada ropera) through the high rapier period of the 17th century through the small sword and duelling swords, thus context is important in understanding what is meant by the word. (The term side-sword, used among some modern historical martial arts reconstructionists, is a translation from the Italian spada da lato—a term coined long after the fact by Italian museum curators—and does not refer to the slender, long rapier, but only to the early 16th-century Italian sword with a broader and shorter blade that is considered both its ancestor and contemporary.)
Collection of early modern swords (17th to 18th centuries) at the George F. Harding Collection of Arms and Armor, the Art Institute of Chicago.
It is important to remember that the word "rapier" is a German word to describe what was considered to be a foreign weapon. The word rapier was not used by Italian, Spanish, and French masters during the apogee of this weapon, the termsspada, espada and épée (or espée) being instead the norm (generic word for "sword"). Because of this, as well as the great variation of late-16th and 17th century swords, some like Tom Leoni[who?] simply describe the rapier as a straight-bladed, two-edged, single-handed sword of that period which is self-sufficient in terms of both offence and defence, not requiring a companion weapon.In order to avoid the confusion of lumping all swords together, some categorize such swords by their function and use. For example, John Clements categorizes thrusting swords with poor cutting abilities as rapiers and categorizes swords with both good thrusting and cutting abilities as cut and thrust swords. Some however see the rapier in its entire time-line and see that it never truly fits into any single definition. Largely all over Europe the weapon changed based on culture and the fighting style that was prescribed; be it Italian, Spanish, or some other instruction on the weapon's use, so that lengths, widths, hilt designs and even the lack or placement of an edge or edges differed at the same time. One might wear a rapier with a swept hilt and edges on the same day as another might wear one with a cup hilt and an edgeless blade.